Lately, I’ve been experiencing a very specific type of burnout as opposed to the academic one I’m used to feeling. I notice that I experience all the usual burnout indicators – i.e., lack of motivation, reduced productivity, listlessness, fatigue, detachment, lack of creativity – following a negative conversation concerning gender inequality. Allow me to clarify this: since my minor is in women and gender studies, I am constantly researching and discussing recent topics in this category. Some of the mental strain involved in this is of my own making, but what’s frustrating is when close-minded people attempt to engage in harmful or frustrating conversations about it with me. Sometimes these conversations are people arguing against the concept of intersectional feminism, or maybe it’s just a man asking how he can be a better feminist ally. And while I appreciate the interest, sometimes women are just too mentally and emotionally exhausted to educate men around us.
For me and many other women, this feeling has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Statistically, in the three years that the coronavirus has been sweeping the nation, women have been bearing the brunt of the housework, childcare, and other self-sacrificing responsibilities (like quitting their jobs or putting their own careers on hold to accommodate their partners). If women still continued working full-time during the pandemic, it was mostly from home where their daily routines consisted of chasing screaming kids around the house while contributing to a Zoom call (which sounds as impossible to do as you would think). More often than not, male employers didn’t comprehend what challenges women were faced with during the pandemic and, instead, indulged in mansplaining to women how to manage their time better. As a result, more and more women have experienced mental health crises in the last three years.
I bring up the pandemic because it caused one specific identity crisis for women of the millennial generation: the decline of the #girlboss lifestyle. While the girl boss trend has been on a downward spiral for a while now, the pandemic really made it feel questionable. I don’t know about other girls born in the late nineties and early 2000s, but I was raised hearing the phrases: “become a CEO!” “you should be the first woman president!” and “you can date once you’re successful, right now you have to focus all your energy on your career!” from the high-achieving women around me. All of these comments aren’t problematic on the surface, but they perpetuate the toxic feminist myth that women can only be successful if they are mentally exhausted. It’s not so much a question of: can a woman be a CEO and have a high-powered career, but will that make every woman happy? For some women, a restful, slow lifestyle is just as fulfilling, and nothing is antifeminist about that.
Where does feminist burnout come into play? All while women are experiencing multiple identities and mental health crises during the pandemic, the feminist movement essentially hits a standstill. Honestly, no one was really questioning how women were handling the pandemic until the past year to six months ago. Only recently have I noticed that women’s wellbeing has become a matter of general discussion again, and that’s annoying. For example, men wondering how they can help with childcare and domestic responsibilities doesn’t erase the fact that women have been carrying that burden alone up until now.
It’s also important to note that women are tired even if they’re not mothers or wives. Personally, I’m experiencing burnout from carrying the responsibilities of a college student who’s expected to perform the same productivity as a college student who is not living during a global health crisis. Recently, I realized that these high, unachievable standards that ruin most women’s self-worth are not okay. And, sometimes the unequal circumstances of living as a woman in our society are inescapable. For example, if I’m trying to study for a really difficult class and then remember I forgot to run and get groceries, I can’t just go do that. I have to wait until a friend is available to go with me because it’s dark outside and it’s unsafe for me to shop alone. If a male friend agrees to go with me but questions why I’m so hypervigilant, sometimes it’s not worth getting into a whole discussion about it – not because I’m a bad feminist – but because I’m an exhausted feminist who doesn’t have the strength to sum up three hundred years of gender inequality in a polite way.